Election 2022: Red tide sweeps state, Southwest Florida—and what it means

Cartoon by Andy Marlette. (Creators Syndicate)

Nov. 8, 2022 by David Silverberg

On Election Day, Nov. 8, a red tide swept Florida and its Southwest region.

As of this writing, 11:00 pm, the national results for the House of Representatives and US Senate were not yet available.

In Southwest Florida, in what was hardly a surprising result, Republicans took all seats that they contested.

In the emotional, hotly-contested non-partisan election for Collier County School Board, incumbents Jory Westberry (District 1), Jen Mitchell (District 3), and Roy Terry (District 5) were all defeated, according to unofficial results from the county Supervisor of Elections.

Statewide, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) defeated Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.). Republicans also took all state Cabinet positions. In the contest for the US Senate seat, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) defeated Rep. Val Demings (D-10-Fla.).

Congressional contests

In the 19th Congressional District along the coast from Cape Coral to Marco Island, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) kept his seat, winning Collier County by 70 to 30 percent for Democrat Cindy Banyai and Lee County 67 percent to 33 percent.

In the area that includes Charlotte County, incumbent Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), retained his seat, defeating Democratic challenger Andrea Doria Kale by 70 to 30 percent.

In the newly renumbered District 26, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart beat Democratic challenger Christine Olivo 72 to 28 percent in Collier County.

Collier County

Come January, Collier County will be governed by two commissioners backed by extreme farmer and grocer Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes III, who helped fund their campaigns through his Citizens Awake Now Political Action Committee.

In Collier County District 2, Oakes-backed Republican candidate Chris Hall defeated Democrat Barbara “Bebe” Kanter by 70 to 30 percent. In District 4, Dan Kowal won his seat in the August primary.

Republicans took all seats for the state legislature and Senate.

Lee County

In Lee County Republicans swept the county commission seats they sought. In the one contested race, District 5, the winner was Republican Mike Greenwell by 69 percent to Democrat Matthew Woods’ 31 percent.

Collier County School Board

In the unusually hotly contested Collier County School Board election, incumbent school board members Jory Westberry in District 1, Jen Mitchell in District 3 and Roy Terry in District 5 were all defeated. Jerry Rutherford won District 1 by 65 percent, Kelly Lichter won District 3 by 58 percent and Tim Moshier won District 5 by 60 percent.

Lee County School Board

Lee County will begin choosing its school superintendents through a popular vote under an initiative that passed 63 to 37 percent.

In the non-partisan School Board election, Sam Fisher won in District 1, Debbie Jordan won in District 4, and Jada Langford Fleming won in District 6.

Judges and amendments

All judges up for a vote retained their seats.

Statewide totals for the three constitutional amendments were not available at posting time.

Analysis: What’s likely next

The Trump-DeSantis Florida fight

The opening skirmishes of an epic battle between two vicious, disparaging and domineering personalities began just before the election.

On Sunday, Nov. 6, DeSantis was snubbed from attending a Trump rally with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in Miami.

At that rally, Trump gave DeSantis the nickname “DeSanctimonious,” a sure declaration of war (although one unlikely to resonate with MAGA followers who don’t know the word.)

But now, with DeSantis resoundingly returned to the governor’s mansion, it will be all-out war between the maestro and the protégé as they both struggle for the Republican nomination in 2024. As a World Series played between two New York teams is called a “subway series,” so this battle will be a “Florida fight” as the two state-based personalities vie for dominance.

This is likely to be the conflict the media focuses on for the next two years. Every move, every utterance, and likely every fart and burp from these two will be scrutinized and analyzed for its effect on the presidential race. Any other political news will be eclipsed. More importantly for Floridians, the fight will distract from the governing of the state as DeSantis gives his real attention to the presidential race.

It’s worth noting that Trump will be 78 years old on Election Day, Nov. 5, 2024 but he seems so full of bile and hate he’s unlikely to die before then, possibly the only thing that could head off this clash. He’s unlikely to be stopped by indictments, investigations or even convictions. He and fellow miscreants will be protected by Republicans in Congress and the states.

Southwest Florida’s swamp stomp

The DeSantis-Trump rivalry will reverberate throughout Florida as their respective adherents choose sides. Until now both men largely represented the same ideological agenda but the time has come to choose sides.

Beyond that rivalry, however, Florida’s extreme MAGA state legislators will likely lock in their advantages with further voter suppression, more voter restrictions and efforts to narrow the franchise in every way possible, aided by a completely politicized judiciary. The legislature, already a DeSantis rubber stamp, will become even more submissive, with Republican supermajorities that will do more than just uniformly endorse any DeSantis demand. They’ll be trying to boost his presidential chances and also ensure that neither Democrats nor any other party that might arise ever have the remotest chance of attaining office again. Florida will so effectively be a one-party state that even Kim Jong Un will be envious.

This is to say nothing of state legislative efforts to outlaw all abortion, which will likely happen regardless of the fate of a national ban.

Drilling down to local specifics, in Collier County, politics and policy are firmly in MAGA hands at the county level.

This could mean that MAGA radicals may try again to nullify federal law as they did with an ordinance originally introduced in July 2021. Then, the proposal failed by a single vote of the Board of Commissioners. If that ordinance or a version of it passes, Collier County would be cut off from all federal grants, aid and funding. In the event of another hurricane it would get no help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, whose assistance was essential in the wake of Hurricane Ian.

County budgets will be facing mindless, unnecessary ideologically-driven cuts that will erode the quality of life and the efficiency of county services and infrastructure.

More particularly, county policy will likely reflect the preferences and priorities of Alfie Oakes. That will mean no public health restrictions regardless of circumstances or assistance in the event of a public health crisis like that of the COVID pandemic. It will also mean reduced to non-existent enforcement of county rules, regulations and ordinances he opposes.

The standard of education in Collier County is likely to take a nose-dive, driven by ideological and religious priorities, its budgets cut and new ideological restraints imposed on teachers and curriculum.

Also, with the School Board firmly in Oakes-backed hands, it is entirely possible that major school food contracts may be awarded to Oakes Farms, probably on a non-competitive basis.

Hard but not good

The voters have spoken and in Southwest Florida, the demographic preponderance of Republicans voting their registration ensured a sweeping victory.

Notably, given the results, no one who denied the results of the 2020 presidential election is yet arguing that this election was rigged or a sham or a fraud.

As the “Bard of Baltimore,” journalist HL Mencken, put it back in 1915: “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

Indeed. The majority of Southwest Floridians and other Sunshine State voters seem to know what they want. They’ll be getting it “good and hard” for the next two years.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Endorsements: Recommendations for the General Election in Lee and Collier Counties

Oct. 17, 2022

Our elections are no longer “normal”—and this year’s general election is no exception.

Since the presidency of Donald Trump, each election has become a referendum on whether America will remain a democracy. That was especially true in the 2020 presidential election and it remains true in 2022.

At stake is the legislative branch of the American government and the state of Florida. Will America be governed by a party that supports checks and balances on executive power, respects the will of the majority of voters as expressed in elections, and honors its founding Constitution? Or will it be governed by a party wholly given to the worship of one man, which excuses his crimes and appetites, and is willing to replace its governing institutions with his whims, rages and prejudices?

These questions will be answered, not just at the national level, but at every level of government, from the counties, to cities to school boards.

So this year’s election is a referendum on the future and not just a judgment on individual candidates and propositions.

As has been stated in the past, it has always been the position of The Paradise Progressive that a media outlet covering politics has a duty to endorse. Following candidates and political developments on a regular basis provides insights and knowledge that need to be shared with voters. Whether the outlet is national or local television, online or print or even a simple blog, it is the obligation of independent media in a free society to help voters make an informed choice.

Further, it needs to be noted that while The Paradise Progressive has a progressive orientation, as its name implies, it is not affiliated with any particular party or governed by any party’s dictates. Its judgments are its own. That said, it does reference Democratic Party endorsements.

There are three criteria for The Paradise Progressive’s candidate endorsements:

1. Is the candidate qualified for the office he or she is seeking?

2. Can the candidate be relied upon to make clear, understandable, rational decisions based on facts, data, logic and science?

3. Does the candidate support the United States Constitution, the peaceful transition of power and—most of all—democracy?

In response to reader queries, below is a list of all Paradise Progressive endorsements for elected office statewide, in Collier and Lee counties, and in the 19th, 17th and 26th congressional districts that cover Southwest Florida.

Not all these races or candidates been covered in depth in Paradise Progressive postings or fully explained in editorials. Nor is this a complete list of offices up for election.

The offices are listed in the order that they appear on their respective ballots. They include races for non-partisan positions like judgeships and school boards, which are extremely important this year.

Where necessary, for example in judicial and constitutional matters, there is additional discussion.

State and federal offices

United States Senator

  • Val Demings

Representative Congressional District 19:

  • Cindy Banyai

Representative Congressional District 17:

  • Andrea Dorea Kale

Representative Congressional District 26:

  • Christine Olivo

Governor and Lieutenant Governor:

  • Charlie Crist and Karla Hernandez

Attorney General:

  • Aramis Ayala

Chief Financial Officer:

  • Adam Hattersley

Commissioner of Agriculture:

  • Naomi Esther Blemur

State senator, District 27:

  • Christopher Proia

State Representative, District 77:

  • Eric Englehart

State Representative, District 80:

  • Mitchel Schlayer

County offices

Lee County Board of Commissioners, District 5:

  • Matthew Wood

Collier County Board of Commissioners, District 2:

  • Bebe Kanter

Judicial elections

  • Judge Jorge Labarga – Yes
  • All others – No

The Lee and Collier County Democratic parties are recommending that voters vote “yes” to retain Jorge Labarga on the Florida Supreme Court and vote “no” on all others.

The Paradise Progressive concurs.

The reasoning for this vote is explained in the article: “How Florida Voters Could Fire Their Worst Supreme Court Justices In November,” by Matthew Henderson, a Florida-based attorney and policy analyst, writing in Balls & Strikes, a website of commentary and analysis on judicial affairs.

“If DeSantis wins re-election” Henderson writes, “…he can replace any justice the voters reject with another loyal conservative. If Crist wins, however, he can overhaul the court immediately.”

He continues: “Historically, voters have not paid much attention to retention elections; to date, no appellate judge or justice has ever lost one. But scrutiny of the state’s highest court has increased after controversies involving other DeSantis appointees. If even one justice gets close to being replaced, it puts the entire system into question unlike any time since the last time justices were unmasked as partisan hacks in the 1970s.”

Labarga, Henderson writes, “has distanced himself from his colleagues. Appointed by Crist in 2009, Labarga is conservative, but not as brazenly political as his colleagues.”

The other state Supreme Court judges on the ballot offer a stark contrast.

Charles Canaday, who has been on the court for 14 years, is a former Republican state representative and as a US congressman was an impeachment manager against President Bill Clinton in 1999.

Ricky Polston argued in favor of giving state money to religious charter schools despite the state Constitution forbidding it.

Jamie Grosshans, appointed in 2020 by DeSantis, “is the closest thing to an Amy Coney Barrett of Florida,” according to Henderson. As a law student she was “event coordinator for something called the Institute in Basic Life Principles, which turned out to be an actual cult teaching about the ungodliness of blue jeans. She then interned at the Claremont Institute, the conservative think tank that gave us Trump’s personal coup lawyer, John Eastman.” Eastman was the attorney who came up with the legal theory used in the attempt to overthrow the 2020 election.

John Couriel joined opinions making it harder to sue for wrongful deaths as a result of tobacco use and shielded corporate executives from depositions.

Given this record, a “no” vote for all Supreme Court judicial candidates other than Labarga is justified.

As Henderson puts it: “As conservative judges at all levels flex their muscles in courthouses across the country, Florida voters have the opportunity to evict a few of its own revanchist justices who think there are a few too many civil rights floating around.” 

School Boards

Lee County District 1:

  • Kathy Fanny

Lee County District 4:

  • Debbie Jordan

Lee County District 6:

  • Jada Langford Fleming

Collier County District 1:

  • Jory Westberry

Collier County District 3:

  • Jen Mitchell

Collier County District 5:

  • Roy Terry

Municipal elections

City of Bonita Springs City Council District 5

  • Jude Richvale

Constitutional Amendments

  • Amendment 1: Yes
  • Amendment 2: No
  • Amendment 3: Yes

Interestingly, the Lee and Collier County Democratic parties split on these measures, with Lee County’s party advocating “no, yes, yes” and Collier County’s party advocating “yes, no, no.”

Amendment 1 states that effective January 1, 2023, flood resistance improvements to a home will not be included in assessing properties for ad valorem [to value] tax purposes.

Advocates of Amendment 1 argue that it will both incentivize and reward homeowners who protect their properties from flooding. Critics point out that it will reduce the tax revenues for state and local governments.

This amendment overwhelmingly passed both the state House and Senate on a bipartisan basis, unanimously in the Senate. After Hurricane Ian showed the damage that flooding can do, Amendment 1 makes eminent sense for a Florida in the grip of climate change. It will benefit homeowners of all incomes and help build climate resilience. It should be passed.

Amendment 2 would abolish Florida’s Constitutional Revision Commission that meets every 20 years to consider constitutional changes.

Advocates argue this would protect Florida from ill-considered, vague or confusing and whimsical changes, while critics say that rather than abolishing it entirely, qualifications for sitting on the Commission can be tightened.

The idea of a periodic review of the Florida Constitution is a good one and the Commission should be kept. Amendments proposed by the Commission still have to be approved by voters. It also provides a source of new ideas in addition to the four others—citizen initiatives, constitutional conventions, the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, or legislative joint resolutions—available to Florida. This proposal should be rejected.

Amendment 3 gives the legislature the authority to grant an additional homestead tax exemption up to $50,000 to public employees. These include classroom teachers, law enforcement officers, correctional officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, child welfare services professionals, active duty members of the United States Armed Forces, and Florida National Guard members.

Advocates argue that these workers and servicemembers deserve a tax break given the nature of their jobs and duties. Critics point out that this measure would cost the state and localities $85.9 million starting the fiscal year after it passes. They argue that it also wouldn’t guarantee that these workers could find affordable housing and it sets a precedent of favoring one group or profession over another for taxation.

The critics have very valid points. However, Florida—and especially Southwest Florida—has great need for these workers so this incentive may be helpful.

The benefits of this amendment especially apply in the case of classroom teachers. After all the bile, hatred and denigration aimed at these public servants by extreme anti-public education fanatics including the governor, after all the restrictions proposed and imposed on them by the legislature and especially given their low pay and benefits, teachers deserve relief and support. There are few enough incentives for classroom teachers to work in Florida. What is more, numerous ideologically-driven school boards are poised to impose further restraints on classroom teaching. This is why electing good school boards are so vitally important in Southwest Florida and everywhere. (See school board endorsements, above.)

This amendment will go some way toward attracting new teachers to the state and retaining the ones already working in Florida. It will assist those who provide vital services in the public sector. It should be passed.

For a very complete, objective, non-partisan analysis of the constitutional amendments on the ballot, see the James Madison Institute’s 2022 Amendment Guide.

Cartoon by Andy Marlette.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Rick Scott meets the Peter Principle

Has Florida’s junior senator reached his ‘level of incompetence?’

What has become the iconic photo of Rick Scott, taken in 2012. (Photo: Joe Skipper for Reuters)

Oct. 8, 2022 by David Silverberg

In 1969, Canadian educator Laurence Peter published the book The Peter Principle. In it he put forward the idea that capable people in hierarchical organizations tend to be promoted until they reach what he called their “level of incompetence.”

The Peter Principle has been a management byword ever since.

Today Floridians can see the Peter Principle in action in their junior senator, Richard Lynn “Rick” Scott.

After repeatedly laying out massive amounts of cash to win election as governor and senator in Florida, Scott has now reached a position in the United States Senate and the Republican Party where his judgment, his ideas and his results are questionable, to put it mildly. He’s proposing very extreme measures for the country that are being roundly rejected by his fellow Republicans, his prospects for success in guiding Republicans to a Senate majority dim by the day, and in the wake of Hurricane Ian he’s not even voting to help his state.

It certainly has all the markings of the Peter Principle in action, Florida Man version.

What’s more, despite all this, he clearly has his eyes on the presidency in 2024, which also marks the last year of his Senate term.

So, has Rick Scott reached his level of incompetence?

The cash cushion

Like so many Floridians, the 69-year-old Scott is a Midwestern transplant, having been born in Bloomington, Ill. He received his Bachelor degree at the University of Missouri and his law degree at Southern Methodist University in Texas.

After a stint in the Navy in the early 1970s he worked as a lawyer. In 1989 he was a co-founder of the Columbia Hospital Corporation to provide for-profit healthcare. With Scott as its chief executive officer (CEO) it merged with another company to become Columbia/HCA, the nation’s largest for-profit healthcare company.

But in 1997 Columbia/HCA became mired in scandal when federal agencies accused it of defrauding Medicare, Medicaid and other federal programs. Scott was questioned and invoked the Fifth Amendment 75 times. As a result of a federal lawsuit, Columbia/HCA admitted to the fraud and was forced to pay $1.7 billion in fines to the government. It was the largest settlement of its kind in American history. Although there were no criminal charges against him, Scott was forced to resign as CEO four months after the charges became public.

After a period as a venture capitalist Scott ran for governor of Florida in 2010 after Charles “Charlie” Crist chose to run for the US Senate rather than seek another term as governor.

Scott’s spending on his first political race broke all previous state campaign records. He poured $85 million into the race, more than $73 million of which was family money. The prior record had been held by Crist himself, when he spent $24.6 million in his 2006 gubernatorial bid, a sum that now seemed like a pittance.

Yet for all that spending Scott only narrowly defeated his primary opponent, then-Attorney General Bill McCollum, by 46.4 percent of the vote. His general election victory was even closer: Scott garnered 48.92 percent to Democrat Alex Sink’s 47.67 percent, a difference of only 61,550 votes. It was the closest Florida gubernatorial race since 1876.

In 2014 Scott’s re-election race against Crist cost him $12.8 million of his own money. Campaign finance laws in Florida changed after the 2010 race and so had national campaign finance laws in the wake of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision allowing unrestricted issue-oriented campaign spending.

Between Scott’s contributions and outside spending groups, a study, “Campaign Spending and the 2014 Florida Gubernatorial Race” in the Journal of Florida Studies estimated Scott’s spending at $79 million, or $27.58 per vote, while the Crist campaign effort cost $47.74 million or $17.04 per vote.

Scott won this race too, by a narrow margin: 48.1 percent to Crist’s 47.1 percent, a difference of 64,145 votes.

“While this [spending] would win Scott the election, it would not do so by a larger margin than he won in 2010,” notes the study’s author, Harold Orndorff.

A full policy review of Scott’s term in office is beyond the scope of this essay but suffice to say it featured mostly extreme Republican conservative orthodoxy with a few Scott idiosyncrasies thrown in. Most notable was Scott’s absolute rejection of the idea of climate change to the point where the term was informally banned from use in his administration—and this in an environmentally sensitive state subject to the worst effects of global warming. The full impact—mostly deleterious—of his tenure is a book yet to be written.

Limited to two terms, Scott decided to run for the US Senate against incumbent Bill Nelson in 2018. Once again, he brought out the big bucks to do it, spending a record $64 million of his own money.

After an election so close it was in dispute for weeks and took two recounts, Scott was declared the winner by 50.1 percent to Nelson’s 49.9 percent, a hairsbreadth difference of 10,033 votes.

The lesson of this electoral history is that while Scott has won, it has always been at great expense and by very narrow margins.

Scott is not a natural politician. He doesn’t evoke feelings of warmth or goodwill. He doesn’t inspire great loyalty or allegiance. His policy prescriptions can be idiosyncratic but are mostly conventionally far right. In the days before Donald Trump he was the Donald Trump of Florida, winning over fringe conservatives but also getting enough votes of dutifully traditional mainstream Republicans to just barely put him over the finish line.

A flawed Florida model

There’s no denying or disputing Scott’s victories, no matter how narrow or expensive. He won the elections he entered. But these victories also seem peculiar to Florida, with its fragmented media markets and its distance and popular alienation from the federal government. It’s a land where most people are indifferent to policy, where retirees want to freeze time and where, as political consultant Rick Wilson once said, “everything north of I-4 is just Alabama with more guns.”

As Scott has shown through his vast cash outlays, a politician can buy elections in Florida. But now he’s also showing that his Florida model doesn’t necessarily translate into national success.

In 2020 Republican senators elected Scott to be chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He was charged with managing all the mechanics of electing a Republican Senate including finding candidates, raising money and aiding their campaigns.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate Minority Leader, was looking to Scott to make him Senate Majority Leader in 2023. With the party holding the presidency traditionally losing congressional seats in its first midterm election and with President Joe Biden having a low approval rating, Scott seemed to have the wind at his back and an easy path ahead.

Instead, as of this writing, Democrats are narrowly favored to keep the Senate (the website FiveThirtyEight.com puts their odds at 68 percent). Republican Senate candidates are foundering (every day seems to bring a new scandal or gaffe to Georgia’s Herschel Walker).

Even McConnell has complained. “I think there’s a probably a greater likelihood that the House flips than the Senate,” he said at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Kentucky in August. “Senate races are just different—they’re statewide, candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome.” It was widely seen as a swipe at Scott’s performance.

Scott for his part seemed to see the NRSC as just a springboard to the presidency. Wags have joked that NRSC really stands for National Rick Scott Campaign.

In defiance of McConnell, Scott, in consultation with Donald Trump, unveiled his own 12-point agenda in February called the “Commitment to America.” It would impose taxes on the poorest Americans and subject Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to five-year reauthorizations, with the possibility of termination. This directly threatens Florida’s many seniors dependent on these programs.

At a time when American states, counties and cities are still recovering from the COVID pandemic and natural disasters, Scott’s plan would cut off their federal funding. It would slash jobs for police, firefighters, teachers and other local public employees. Nationally, there are an estimated 795,000 police, 317,200 firefighters and 3.2 million teachers. All their jobs would be jeopardized. Ironically enough, Scott’s plan would defund the police.

At a time when pro-choice forces are energized and alarmed over the loss of the right to choose and are flocking to the Democratic Party, Scott dodged questions about his support for a proposal to impose a national abortion ban introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

But beyond the national campaigns and the future of the presidency, Scott has actually turned on his own state—and in its greatest hour of need.

After capably handling the onslaught of Hurricane Irma as governor in 2017, Scott failed abysmally as senator after the catastrophe of Hurricane Ian in 2022, which made landfall in Southwest Florida on Sept. 28.

Just two days later, on Sept. 30, when the Senate voted to fund the government until Dec. 16—which included roughly $20 billion in disaster relief funds for the country as a whole—Scott voted against the measure.

Not only was Scott’s vote striking given Florida’s distress, it was at odds with the rest of the Senate’s Republican caucus. The measure, the Continuing Appropriations and Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2023 (House Resolution 6833), also known as a continuing resolution or CR, was endorsed by McConnell and the Senate Republican leadership. Along with all the Democrats, 22 Republicans approved it and it passed the Senate by a lopsided vote of 72 to 25. (Florida’s other senator, Marco Rubio, was absent for the vote. The bill also passed the House by 230 to 201, with all 16 House Republicans from Florida voting against it. Biden signed it into law that day, just before the end of the federal fiscal year.)

It’s worth considering what would have happened had Scott’s negative vote succeeded. The federal government would have shut down. The Federal Emergency Management Agency would have halted operations just as it was getting into gear to help Southwest Florida. There would have been no urban search and rescue teams from other states flying into Florida to save people trapped under the rubble. There would have been no Coast Guard operations to help victims stranded by storm surge. There would have been no federal aid for housing, food, safety, security, or communications.

This is the kind of apocalypse Scott was voting for with his negative vote.

On Sept. 7, well before Hurricane Ian made landfall, Scott forcefully urged Republicans to reject the continuing resolution.

“Today I am urging every Republican to demand that Congress pass a clean CR that simply maintains current federal spending levels,” he declared in a statement. “We cannot cave to the demands of the Democrats carrying out an agenda led by a raving lunatic in the White House.”

That “raving lunatic” visited Southwest Florida on Wednesday, Oct. 5, to see the damage for himself. He pledged the full faith, credit and resources of the United States to help Florida—and especially Southwest Florida—recover and aid the people hurt by the storm.

Revealing the man

Now, all the doubts and criticism of Scott may be rendered moot by a smashing Republican Senate victory on Nov. 8 that vindicates his senatorial efforts.

Perhaps Republicans will win the Senate. Perhaps McConnell will become majority leader.  Perhaps Scott will be hailed as a political genius. Perhaps 2022 will pave the way for Scott’s 2024 nomination as president and his ultimate election to the White House. Perhaps Florida and Southwest Florida in particular will fully recover and rebuild without any federal help at all. Perhaps the disgrace and stigma of the Columbia/HCA fraud will be flushed down the river of history and Scott will be washed clean by the purifying waters of political power.

It could happen.

However, with exactly one month to go until the election that’s not the way it’s looking.

Instead, what appears to be happening is that a man who bought his elections in Florida has now come up against a much more complex political task than he ever faced before. Rather than easily manipulating a disinterested Florida electorate through television ads, Scott is fumblingly trying to juggle diverse and aroused populations throughout a vast country that he doesn’t really understand.

First Lady Michelle Obama once observed: “Being president doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are.”

The same could be said for any high office. Each step up the ladder reveals a bit more about the person you are. With each step upward there are more people scrutinizing your flaws, more people critiquing your moves, and more people watching to see if you fall.

Rick Scott has climbed pretty high. Each step has revealed more about his capabilities and character. It’s been a very enlightening ascent for those bothering to watch. Scott obviously hopes to climb higher. But the ladder is swaying and there’s the pesky possibility that at his current step he may have reached as far as he’s able.

Has he reached his “level of incompetence?” It certainly seems so. However, on Nov. 8, with every vote for every Senate seat throughout the nation, Americans will decide for themselves.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Can Florida’s politicians meet the test of Hurricane Ian?

Hurricane Ian, photographed yesterday while a tropical storm. (Photo: NOAA)

Sept. 26, 2022 by David Silverberg

Politicians can strike any poses they want, maneuver any way they like, fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time—but they can’t avoid, evade or disguise a natural disaster.

Hurricane Ian will be a major test of the leadership and management abilities of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and the entire slate of incumbent office holders seeking election this November. It could make them or break them—and DeSantis’ performance will be judged in light of his 2024 presidential ambitions.

Generally, a natural disaster favors an incumbent. An official in charge can display leadership, command and competence that win favor and respect in a way no challenger can match.

It’s hard to remember now but a sterling response to a disaster was shown by Mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York on Sept. 11, 2001. Throughout a day of chaos and terror, including times when he was physically in danger, Giuliani never broke down, never disengaged, never cowered, never panicked, and never abandoned or betrayed his responsibilities or his role as a chief executive and leader. That performance won him a place as Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” and the sobriquet “America’s Mayor.” It was arguably the best response by any elected leader to any major disaster in American history.

By the same token, while people may not necessarily remember a good response, they never forget a bad one.

A classic example of this was the response of another New York mayor, John Lindsay, to an unexpected blizzard in 1969. His failure to dig the city out and keep vital services running essentially put an end to his political career.

When Hurricane Irma struck Florida in 2017 then-Gov. Rick Scott (R) acquitted himself relatively well, issuing updates and successfully managing evacuations and then the post-storm clean-up. There were no major or glaring failures in his decisionmaking and response.

The same could not be said of his response to the Big Bloom of red tide that tormented Florida’s Gulf coast in 2018. Then, his bumbling response and public frustration led to him actually being hounded from a rally by an angry crowd in Venice and fleeing in his campaign bus.

His successful handling of Irma was no issue in his 2018 Senate bid, while his red tide response hurt him, if not sufficiently to keep him from winning.

Hurricane Ian will be DeSantis’ first real big test. Until now he was dealing with human events that he could fudge, spin or manipulate to his advantage. Putting migrants on a plane did not take a genius of organization.

But natural disasters are forces beyond the ability of politicians to bend to their will. They are relentless and pitiless. Politicians can fail spectacularly in confronting them.

One of the most glaring examples of such a failure came in February 2021 when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) abandoned his state for a vacation trip to Cancun, Mexico. He left behind savage winter storms and freezes that knocked out electric power and cut off drinking water to millions of suffering Texans. Recognized at the airport, he became the target of fury and mockery, leaving a blot on his career that will likely never be erased.

So what should Floridians look for in their elected officials now and how should they be judged? Some criteria are:

Engagement: Are the officials fully engaged, alert and aware of events and developments?

Communication: Are officials communicating vital information effectively to constituents and citizens?

Presence: Are officials present where they are needed and where they can most effectively respond?

Decisionmaking: This may be hard for citizens on the ground to judge in real time but are officials making clear, rational, effective decisions given the information in their possession? These decisions must withstand scrutiny after the event.

Compassion: This is a very subjective quality but it’s one that is very important both for political careers and for the morale of disaster victims. Do officials seem to care what has happened to people as a result of the disaster? This requires walking a very fine line between genuine sympathy and blatant exploitation of tragedy.

Effectiveness: Executives, especially top elected officials like governors, county executives and mayors, need to not only weather the storm, they have to successfully manage the cleanup and recovery. Do they marshal the forces and obtain the resources and funding to do that?

It’s also in the post-disaster phase that legislative officials like members of Congress have a vital role to play. For example, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) made no effort to get any funding for his district when he had the chance to submit earmark requests to Congress. Will he similarly ignore his district’s people this time should they need assistance in the wake of Hurricane Ian?

A disaster—or even a threat short of a disaster—tests everyone. People have a right to expect the best from leaders they have elected who are seeking their next vote.

Hurricane Ian is coming at a politically sensitive time in Florida. The response could have a major impact on the future of the state and the country. Every citizen should be alert not only to the storm and its dangers but to the way it is handled by those in office.

______________________

To learn more about past disasters and responses, see the author’s book: Masters of Disaster: The political and leadership lessons of America’s greatest disasters.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Endorsing the next Democratic governor

Rep. Charlie Crist and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.

Aug. 10, 2022

Florida voters should have no doubt about the stakes of this year’s gubernatorial election.

What is being constructed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in Florida is a platform for his run for president in 2024. To do this, he is building in Florida the model of a DeSantis state along Trumpist lines.

It will be a state where there are no checks or balances on the governor’s pursuit of power, where science and data and truth and the health and well-being of residents are twisted or ignored in favor of politically-convenient fictions. It’s a place where extremism is embraced, intolerance enshrined and prejudice pursued.

And if this state of affairs succeeds in Florida in 2022, DeSantis will try to make it a model and take it national in 2024.

So the stakes in the Democratic gubernatorial primary go way beyond just the ambitions of two politicians seeking the nomination to take on DeSantis. It goes to the heart of preserving post-insurrection democracy.

When it comes to the gubernatorial ballot, every Democratic voter has to choose who is best capable of preserving democracy in Florida and the United States: Rep. Charles “Charlie” Crist (D-13-Fla.) or Agriculture Commissioner Nicole “Nikki” Fried.

The choice is the same kind that faced Democrats in the 2020 presidential nomination contest: should they go with a candidate of great experience, a proven track record, an older, white male who can attract moderate voters, seniors and perhaps disaffected Republicans and independents, or a newer, less proven, but more passionate and fiery candidate who also happens to be female? Is apparent electability more important than fervent commitment?  Does being right necessarily conflict with electoral success?

Early in-person voting in Lee and Collier counties begins Saturday, Aug. 13 (the last day to request a mail-in ballot) and runs until Saturday, Aug. 20. In Charlotte County it began on Aug. 8 and runs until Sunday, Aug. 21. Primary Election Day is Tuesday, Aug. 23. Mail-in ballots are already arriving.

This year both candidates bring great strengths to the contest and both face long odds against the incumbent.

The Crist chronicle

Crist, 66, brings long experience and knowledge, having served prior stints as governor, attorney general, education commissioner, and congressional representative. He is comfortable in Tallahassee and Washington, DC, as well as his own, native Tampa.

Although relatively low-key in manner, he is a formidable campaigner, having run in 10 races and won seven, not including primaries. He has an established fundraising network for this race and a significant bundle of heavyweight endorsements.

From a regional perspective, Crist is very familiar with Southwest Florida. As governor he brokered a deal to buy land owned by the US Sugar Corporation and use it to restore the Everglades system. At the time it was a bold and complex concept. Although its execution faced criticism and after Crist’s tenure it was never implemented as envisioned, it certainly moved in the right direction as far as the region’s environment was concerned. It also showed that such a deal could be done if approached with imagination and vigor and Crist was capable of conceiving such initiatives.

Another connection was less positive for Crist. It was in Fort Myers at a town hall meeting on Feb. 10, 2009 that his political world fell apart when he literally embraced the visiting President Barack Obama.

“It was the kind of hug I’d exchanged with thousands and thousands of Floridians over the years. I didn’t think a thing about it as it was happening,” Crist wrote in his memoir, The Party’s Over: How the Extreme Right Hijacked the GOP and I Became a Democrat. The hug “ended my viable life as a Republican politician. I would never have a future in my old party again.”

Since then Crist has run as an independent and a Democrat. It has led to charges of political opportunism and distrust about his commitment to any political principle.

But it can also be seen in a different way: as an ability to evolve and change and grow, especially as he left a Republican party that he characterized as having “pitched so far to the extreme right on issues important to women, immigrants, seniors and students that they’ve proven incapable of governing for the people”—and this was before Donald Trump came on the political scene.

The Fried factor

In contrast to Crist there has never been any doubt about Nikki Fried’s loyalties or commitment to the Democratic Party.

Fried, 44, is the only Democrat to currently hold a statewide elected office. Prior to her 2018 election she had a lengthy career in the law both in public and private practice. She’s been a corporate lawyer, a public defender, a foreclosure defense real estate lawyer and a lobbyist, mainly for the medical marijuana industry.

Her current post is the first electoral position she’s held and she won it by a hairsbreadth margin of 6,753 votes—and that after two recounts.

She’s been widely identified with the effort to legalize medical marijuana, having seen the disproportionate impact of criminalization in black and poor communities. She’s argued for the economic benefits of a legal cannabis sector and actively tried to roll back legal barriers to its sale and use.

However, Fried has gone well beyond that one topic and as Commissioner of Agriculture has dealt with a wide variety of matters, as she must. Beyond the issues that politicians pick and choose she’s clear and unambiguous about the major ones: she’s emphatically pro-choice, she supports LGBTQ rights and she’s vigorously urging that gun violence be stopped by all means available.

But most striking has been her battle to stop the encroaching authoritarianism of the DeSantis administration. Isolated in an otherwise Republican Cabinet, ostracized by a rubberstamp Republican legislature, vilified and defamed, over the past four years Fried fought on in every way she could to maintain an open, secular inclusive government. She has called out the hypocrisy, the actual lies and the malicious disregard for Floridians’ health during the pandemic and denounced the governor’s every move to restrict voting rights and intellectual—and actual—freedom.

Endorsement

The overriding issue in this election is whether democracy will survive in Florida and, by extension, in the United States.

Anything else is mere commentary. Without democracy there can be no rights of any kind, there will be no freedom, there will be no liberty. Democracy is the fundamental bedrock on which everything else rests.

Nikki Fried, by demonstrating her persistence, her indefatigability, her devotion to constitutional government as well as her demonstrated care for the health, wealth and wellbeing of all Floridians, should serve as the next governor of the state of Florida.

From an old-school political standpoint, her candidacy may not present the most conventional choice. No doubt many undecided Floridians may be put off by the fact that she’s a woman and an outspoken democrat.

However, at a time when the very foundations of American politics and the Constitution are at risk her clear commitment to the ideals of the American experiment is what’s needed, especially in Florida where they’re most at risk.

As a candidate she has an immense task before her: if nominated she needs to unite Democrats, win over undecided voters and Republicans alienated from the Trumpist extremism of their party. She has to overcome DeSantis’ advantages in party organization and fundraising. She has to turn back a tide of fanaticism and reaction encroaching on Floridians’ lives, minds and fortunes.

Nonetheless, Fried seems up to the task. At the very core of this election there can be no doubt that Fried is a democrat with both an uppercase and a lowercase “d.”

Nikki Fried should be the next governor of the great state of Florida.

Commissioner Nikki Fried

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Follow-up: Whatever happened to Rep. Bob Rommel’s classroom Big Brother bill?

State Rep. Bob Rommel of Naples. (Image: Tampa Bay 10 News)

March 25, 2022 by David Silverberg

Florida teachers can rest assured that they will not have to wear microphones and be subject to video surveillance in their classrooms—at least for the rest of this year.

That’s because the Video Cameras in Public School Classrooms, House Bill (HB) 1055, in the Florida legislature died at the end of the legislative session.

It was not given a hearing or considered for passage during the three-month legislative session.

The bill was introduced on Dec. 28 last year by state Rep. Bob Rommel (R-106-Naples). It required that Florida public school teachers wear microphones and be watched by video cameras in their classrooms.

Following its first reading on Jan. 11, the bill was referred to two subcommittees of the Florida House Education and Employment Committee: the early learning and elementary education subcommittee and the secondary education and career development subcommittee. It was also referred to the House Appropriations preK-12 appropriations subcommittee.

In a Feb. 11 message to constituents, Rommel stated:

“On any given school day in the Sunshine State, over 2.5 million kids attend our public schools. That doesn’t even include kids in private school or homeschool.

“We have more school children than 15 other states have people. Our children must have a world-class education and we must take every precaution to keep them safe. Safe from bullying, safe from abuse, and safe from teachers with an ideological agenda.

“The key is to make our classrooms transparent and accountable. That’s why I filed legislation this year to put security cameras in every classroom in Florida.

“While the radical Left wants to take control of our kids, conservatives want to keep parents in charge. In Florida, we protect parents’ rights and we don’t have an income tax. Let’s keep it that way.”

The Early Learning and Elementary Education Subcommittee was the lead subcommittee to consider it. When it didn’t consider the bill, HB 1055 was withdrawn from consideration on Saturday, March 12, after the official end of the legislative session and then officially declared dead on Monday, March 14.

During its short life span HB 1055 came in for blistering criticism from teachers’ unions and education experts.

“Did you ever read 1984?  Big Brother is not the way to encourage learners to grapple with difficult issues, learn critical thinking and become active informed, voting citizens of our democracy.  What you propose can only limit thinking, discussion and learning for students who will become the leaders of the future,” wrote Madelon Stewart, an education activist, in a Jan. 31 op-ed in the Fort Myers News-Press.

“You may try to justify this undemocratic law as an  attempt to root out ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ however, you are, in fact, creating what you purport to fear. You say you eschew government overreach, but common sense tells us that what you propose will do nothing positive and that, in fact, you are planning to control learning, freedom of speech and thought,” she wrote.

“I believe there are some people in the public arena who are trying to create a mistrust, not just of teachers, but of public education in general,” Michelle Dillon, president of the St. Johns Education Association told NewsJax 4 in Jacksonville when the bill was introduced. “It’s just noise, it’s a distraction from the real issues of staff shortages and the lack of meaningful pay. We need to trust our educators again.”

“It’s just a lot of energy wasted on something that is wrongheaded, destructive to a profession that’s already in low morale,” Vicki Kidwell, president of the Clay County Education Association, told the same TV station. “We [the teachers] are made out to be villains and we don’t see the energy being put into fixing the problems that we have.”

The Paradise Progressive reached out to Rommel to ask if he plans to re-file this bill next year and if he would make any changes to it. To date no answer has been received.

New district lines

Rommel has announced that he will be running for the Florida House again this year. However, he will be facing a different constituency due to new House district lines.

The existing Florida House 106th District. (Map: Florida House)

Rommel’s current 106th district stretches along the Gulf coast from Bonita Beach Road in Lee County to Naples to Everglades City and Chokaloskee.

The new Florida House 80th and 81st districts. (Map: Florida House)

However, under new district maps passed by the Florida House, the 106th District has been altered and split.

The northern new district, the 80th, runs along the coast from the Lee County-Charlotte County line in the north to Immokalee Rd. in Collier County in the south. It includes Boca Grande, Pine Island and Sanibel Island.

The new southern district, the 81st, runs along the coast from Immokalee Rd. to Marco Island and includes Naples.

This more closely conforms to Rommel’s existing district and he has already stated that he will be running there for both the Aug. 23rd primary and Nov. 8th general election.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate!

The Paradise Progressive will be on hiatus until April 11.

New Senate-passed redistricting map confirms Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres gerrymander—but DeSantis proposal is a wild card

The transfer of north Fort Myers (left arrow) and Lehigh Acres (right arrow) into the 17th Congressional District in the map passed by the Florida Senate. The red lines denote the existing district lines. (Map: Florida Senate/Arrows: The Paradise Progressive.)

Jan. 21, 2022 by David Silverberg

By a vote of 31 to 4 the Florida Senate yesterday, Jan. 20, passed its version of Florida’s new congressional districts.

The new map makes only slight changes to Southwest Florida’s congressional districts but it does take a chunk of Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres out of the current 19th Congressional District and puts it in the 17th Congressional District to the north.

Those districts include considerable Black and Hispanic populations and dilute any potential Democratic voting blocks in the 19th, making both the 19th and 17th districts, already heavily Republican, even more so.

The Senate completely ignored a map submitted on behalf of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), which made radical changes to Florida’s congressional districts. DeSantis has indicated that he may veto the Senate map, since he has to sign off on any congressional boundary changes.

The Florida House has yet to weigh in with a final version of its congressional map.

The Senate map

An overview of the Senate-passed congressional redistricting map. Red lines denote existing district boundaries. (Map: Florida Senate)

The map approved yesterday by the Senate (S000C8040) largely keeps existing boundaries and numbers.

This map was chosen and shepherded through the committee process by Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Lee County) who chaired the Senate’s Reapportionment Committee.

From the outset, Rodrigues said he was committed to avoiding the experience of the 2010 redistricting, which was challenged in court and took six years to litigate before final maps were approved.

The initial round of maps proposed by the Senate received a “B” grade from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, an academic, non-partisan evaluation by Princeton University. It largely kept existing districts intact, while giving Florida its new 28th district. The B meant that the map was considered “better than average for the category, but bias still exists.”

As of this writing the new maps have not yet been graded by Princeton.

The Senate map keeps Fort Myers’ River District in the 19th and makes Park Ave. the boundary line between the 19th and the 17th in the west. State Road 82 becomes the boundary between the 17th and the 19th until it reaches Rt. 75 in the east.

It also puts the 19th District portion of Lehigh Acres solidly in the 17th.

The initial draft of this map was denounced by Democratic congressional candidate Cindy Banyai. “This is gerrymandering,” she stated in a Nov. 19 press release. “Most of the people who are no longer in FL19 are minorities, our Black and Latino neighbors. It’s well known that this district has always been a giveaway to the Republicans, but this clear targeting of our communities of color should alarm everyone.”

The DeSantis map

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed map for Southwest Florida congressional districts. Red lines denote existing districts. (Map: Florida Senate)

The DeSantis proposal (P000C0079) largely follows county lines.

Under the DeSantis proposal, all of Lee County would constitute the 19th Congressional District. Collier County would constitute the bulk of a re-numbered 26th District, along with a chunk of Broward County as far east as Hialeah, the Cuban-American stronghold that provides the center of gravity for the current 25th District. A newly re-numbered 18th District would cover an immense swath of land including all of Charlotte County. Today, much of this area is contained in the 17th District.

An overview of Gov. DeSantis’ proposed congressional district map for Florida. Red lines denote existing boundaries. (Map: Florida Senate)

Analysis: Outcomes

It remains unclear whether the Senate or DeSantis maps will prevail when it comes to congressional districts. (The Senate also redrew state Senate districts. House districts will be redrawn by the state House. These do not need the governor’s signature to take effect.)

“We have submitted an alternative proposal, which we can support, that adheres to federal and state requirements, while working to increase district compactness, minimize county splits where feasible, and protect minority voting populations,” stated Christina Pushaw, the governor’s press secretary. “Because the governor must approve any congressional map passed by the Legislature, we wanted to provide our proposal as soon as possible and in a transparent manner.”

The controversies over the dueling maps will not center around Southwest Florida. The battles are emerging over heavily populated districts on the east coast in Democratic areas like Miami and Jacksonville. According to The Florida Phoenix, it appears “DeSantis’ proposed congressional map favors Republicans in 18 districts and Democrats in 10. Under the existing map, Republicans control 16 seats to the Democrats’ 11” whereas the “Senate draft contains 16 districts that went for Donald Trump two years ago and 12 likely to skew Democratic — a gain of one seat.”

Under the Senate map, existing representatives would remain largely in place, with Rep. Byron Donalds (R) representing the 19th, in which he does not reside, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R) representing the 25th, and Rep. Greg Steube (R) representing the 17th.

Under DeSantis’ map, Donalds would have to choose whether to run in a 19th District that’s even further from his home—meaning a dual commute to Lee County as well as Washington, DC—or stay where he lives in the 25th and face off against fellow Republican Diaz-Balart.

If Donalds decided not to run in the DeSantis 19th, it could open the door to a new contender of any party.

For his part, if Diaz-Balart decided to run in the DeSantis 26th District, he would suddenly have a population center to contend with in a relatively urbanized western part of his district. Until now, the western part of the 25th was barely populated and Diaz-Balart could concentrate his attentions on Hialeah and his Cuban-American constituents with the occasional trip out to Immokalee serving as a show of some degree of concern for western constituents.

Though the redistricting process is far from over, the Senate map has the greatest likelihood of passage, although DeSantis’ wild card could still change the outcome of the game.

Maps must be finalized by June 17 when candidates qualify to run in the new districts. They’re more likely to be finalized by March 11, the last scheduled day of the legislative session.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate!

The Donalds Dossier: On MLK Day it’s time for Byron Donalds to support democracy

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Jan. 17, 2022

“The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by human beings for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison people because they are different from others,” said Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

During his lifetime King worked tirelessly to expand the voting franchise and get people to exercise it. He called voting “the foundation stone of political action.”

But while today people commemorate King’s legacy and remember his contributions to the country, it’s also appropriate to acknowledge the irony of one of the major opponents of voting rights in Southwest Florida—Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.).

Donalds doesn’t even believe that the United States is a democracy. On January 6, the first anniversary of the insurrection at the US Capitol, Donalds tweeted: “We aren’t a Democracy. We are a Constitutional Republic.”

As though to ensure that voting rights don’t expand, during his time in Congress Donalds has consistently voted against measures to protect the franchise and ballot access.

In this Congress, Donalds voted against the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021 (House Resolution (HR) 4), and the For the People Act of 2021 (HR 1), both of which are aimed at protecting people’s voting rights (and both of which passed the House).

“Abolishing voter ID laws, ending signature verification, and putting into place taxpayer-funded campaigns is detrimental to every American’s right to a free and fair election and the harmful rhetoric of President Biden cannot evade this fact,” Donalds argued in a statement at the time.

He defended the filibuster in the Senate even though the filibuster is a practice unique to that chamber and has nothing to do with the House of Representatives—and the threat of a filibuster is now being used to stop HR 1 in the Senate.

Rep. Byron Donalds campaigning in Georgia. (Photo: Office of Rep. Byron Donalds)

What is more, his defense of the filibuster came in the context of his defense of Georgia’s voter suppression law. When President Joe Biden denounced that law as “Jim Crow in the 21st Century” and “an atrocity,” Donalds argued that Biden was “irresponsibly injecting race and the travesty of Jim Crow to oppose the filibuster. Time after time, Democrats resort to the race card to shield them from having to answer for their hypocrisy and radical policies.”

He defended the Georgia law even further in a May 22, 2021 interview with The New York Times: “I think Georgia actually has a very good law. And frankly, it’s sad and, in my view, disgusting that the president referred to it as Jim Crow. It cheapens the history in our country with respect to actual Jim Crow, a disgusting relic of our past. And to try to equate that to what Georgia did, to me, is just completely illogical. It reeks of just the nastiest politics that you could ever want to bring up, to try to divide Americans and divide Georgians.”

He was also a vocal defender of Florida’s voter restriction law, arguing that, like Georgia’s law, “What it does is it actually makes our process cleaner” by reducing the number of drop-boxes and “ballot harvesting,” a practice of collecting mail-in ballots on behalf of other people, a practice outlawed in Florida prior to passage of the bill.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2022, Donalds tweeted: “Today, we don’t only celebrate the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we honor his life of sacrifice and dedication that led to America becoming a more perfect union. We are the nation we are today because of men like MLK, and we must keep his dream alive.”

Donalds can start honoring that dream by working to protect and expand voting, “the foundation stone of political action” and stop denouncing, suppressing and trying to restrict it.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate!

Naples Rep. Bob Rommel pushes Big Brother in Florida classrooms–Updated

Bill would put teachers under video surveillance

State Rep. Bob Rommel of Naples. (Image: Tampa Bay 10 News)

Jan. 14, 2022 by David Silverberg

A bill to place video cameras in Florida classrooms to put teachers under full-time surveillance, introduced by state Rep. Bob Rommel (R-106-Naples), had its initial reading on Tuesday, Jan. 11, the first day of the Florida legislative session.

House Bill (HB) 1055, Video Cameras in Public School Classrooms, “Authorizes school districts to adopt policy to place video cameras in public school classrooms; provides requirements for such policy; provides for viewing video recordings; provides DOE [Department of Education], school district, school, & certain employee responsibilities.” (A link to the full text of the bill is at the conclusion of this article.)

If passed in this legislative session the bill would take effect on July 1.

The bill has been referred to the Education and Employment Committee and its early learning and elementary education and secondary education and career development subcommittees, and the House Appropriations PreK-12 subcommittee.

Under the bill’s provisions a teacher would have to wear a microphone while teaching. Cameras would be installed in the front of classrooms. If a recording is interrupted in any way a written explanation must be filed. School principals would be the officials responsible for holding and administering the recordings and the bill specifies the circumstances under which recordings can be shared or deleted.

Rommel, who represents a legislative district running along coastal Collier County from Bonita Beach Road to Naples to Everglades City and Chokaloskee, was quoted in a television news interview saying, “Children are our most precious assets in the state of Florida and we should make sure we do everything we can to protect them and teachers too. There are incidents, a teacher/student incident, and we want to make sure we protect everyone in the classroom.”

He pointed out that “It’s not live-streamed. So, the teacher’s privacy and how they teach their class is not going to be infringed on.”

(Editor’s note: The Paradise Progressive reached out to Rommel’s office requesting a telephone interview on this subject. As of this writing the request has neither been answered nor acknowledged.)

HB 1055 immediately raised questions from the Florida Education Association (FEA), the largest teachers’ union in the state.

In a statement, Andrew Spar, FEA president, stated: “We have questions about this bill regarding parental rights and other issues. Could law enforcement or the district use the video to investigate a situation dealing with a student without parental knowledge? Can the video be used by law enforcement if a student harms another student or a school employee? Can a teacher use the recording to show that they did not get assistance in a timely manner after calling the office? Can it be used as evidence to show how effective a teacher is in the classroom?”

There is also nothing in the bill discussing the cost of the surveillance or funding for implementation.

A variety of interested parties are already lining up to lobby on the bill including the Lake County School Board, Hillsborough County Schools, and the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, although none had issued public statements on their positions as of this writing.

Yesterday, Jan. 13, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, weighed in on Twitter, stating: “omg no. Florida will not be a surveillance state!!!”

Commentary: Big Brother in the classroom

As though teachers are not under sufficient pressure now, between COVID, mask mandates, remote learning, school shootings, physical threats, anti-public education sentiment, charter school competition, and underfunding as well as low pay, low benefits and general lack of respect, under HB 1055 they would now be subject to constant surveillance in their classrooms.

“Morale is not high in education with teachers and this is just going to look to teachers as another way to catch them,” Angie Snow, an elementary educator in Hillsborough County, said in an interview broadcast on Tampa Bay 10 News. “An allegation is all it takes for a parent to get access and then there’s critiquing and criticizing of everything else.”

Indeed, the presumption behind HB 1055 appears to be that teachers are guilty of something and only the right video footage is needed to catch them.

With that in mind, HB 1055 has been carefully crafted to avoid appearing as part of the ideological assault on educators and school boards.

Although Rommel has espoused conservative, highly ideological views in all his campaigns and previous representation in Tallahassee, he’s couching this bill over concern about “incidents” in classrooms. These are defined in the bill as “an event, a circumstance, an act, or an omission that results in the abuse or neglect of a student” by another student or school employee. There have indeed been incidents of violence and altercations and even shootings in schools like Parkland.

But unlike police body cameras that routinely record footage of potentially violent, dangerous and evidentiary events, classrooms are—or should be—peaceful places. For the most part, what goes on in the vast majority of Florida classrooms the vast majority of the time is teaching and learning.

The extremely rare physical threat or altercation simply doesn’t justify the expense, the difficulty, and the complications—not to mention the simple indignity—of putting microphones on every teacher and installing video cameras in every classroom. If there’s an instance of violence and a security officer has to be called, his or her body camera should provide a sufficient record of any incident.

The real purpose of this legislation is to surveil teachers to punish them—or dangle the threat of punishment—for any heretical ideas they might impart in the classroom, with any party at all playing the role of accuser, inquisitor—and potentially, plaintiff.

HB 1055 fits in nicely with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed Anti-WOKE [Wrongs to our Kids and Employees] Act, giving anyone the ability to sue teachers for teaching critical race theory. Citing video evidence, no matter how far-fetched or flimsy, plaintiffs can head to court on any pretext to financially destroy underpaid teachers even if the plaintiff doesn’t win the case.

From a practical standpoint, there’s simply no need, on a daily, ongoing basis, to record every moment in every classroom—not to mention the Orwellian implications of constant monitoring.

While Rommel is at pains to note that camera footage would not be live-streamed and would have to be released by principals, the fact is that this bill is clearly driven by extreme opponents of classroom COVID precautions and content of which they disapprove—i.e., “wokeness” and critical race theory.

Indeed, in Naples, Rommel’s home district, the only praise for the bill has come from Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes III, the farmer and grocer who in August on Facebook called for the “take down” of teachers’ unions by “force.” (Oakes subsequently stated in an interview with The Paradise Progressive that he meant only by legal means.)

“If these teachers have nothing to hide they shouldn’t mind!” he stated on Facebook on Jan. 1.

This is a bad idea and a bad bill that should not get past the subcommittee stage.

*  *  *

To register an opinion on HB 1055, contact the following legislators (e-mails can be sent through their linked pages):

Education Committee

Early Learning and Elementary Education Subcommittee

Secondary Education and Career Development Subcommittee

PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee

The full text of HB 1055 can be read here.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate!



Full-fledged Florumpia: Gov. Ron DeSantis’ real State of the State address

Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses the state legislature yesterday. (Image: C-SPAN)

Jan. 11, 2022, before the state legislature.

Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, members of the Legislature and fellow citizens:

Welcome to Florumpia, a state of unreason, unreality and unrealism!

While so many around the country have followed science, sense and sentience, Florumpia is proud to be enlightenment’s graveyard.

In Florumpia we’re determined to prevent safeguards to people’s health and safety, to encourage and spread COVID to the greatest degree possible, to endanger our kids in schools and on the streets and as much as possible prevent free thought and inquiry in classrooms.

Florumpia seeks to become the proud dumping ground for ignorance, infection, and delusion, from a losing president who refuses to admit his defeat to anti-vaxxers who want to return to a time before understanding of germs.

Florumpia is a knowledge-free state. We reject all pandemic precautions. We reject all rules, from complying with state constitutional amendments to signaling lane changes.

Florumpia stands as a rock in a stone age! And with our stone tools we will build the future.

Thanks to an authoritarian, unconstitutional federal government, our treasury is full of money approved by Democrats in Congress and the evil President Joe Biden, from the Paycheck Protection Plan, to the COVID relief plan, to support for state governments to infrastructure improvements. With this money so recklessly poured into our state coffers, I will create a special office to invalidate election results I don’t like and a Florumpian military force answerable only to me.

In our classrooms we will stamp out any free or independent thought or critical thinking by our teachers, who will be under constant surveillance and subject to lawsuits by any aggrieved party whatsoever. We will purge all curricula of unpleasantness or discomfort. In Florumpia there have never been any wars with Native Americans nor slavery nor discrimination nor lynchings and no teacher will dare teach otherwise.

We will bring our universities to heel and prevent our professors from thinking any thoughts unapproved by me. They will labor as they should, like mute and mechanical field hands.

Speaking of field hands, we will be closing our borders to all but approved Florumpians, who will pick our crops and repair our roofs and mow our lawns and serve our food in restaurants. If that drives prices beyond what Florumpians want to pay or creates a labor shortage that closes down businesses and hurts the economy we will blame it on Joe Biden.

We will crush dissent expressed in peaceful demonstrations. In our streets, Florumpians can run over any demonstrator if the demonstrator is supporting the wrong cause. Those kinds of drivers will get a pass; all others will be jailed and held guilty until proven innocent.

When it comes to law enforcement we stand with sheriffs like Polk County’s  Grady Judd who put it so well: “We only want to share one thing as you move in, hundreds a day. Welcome to Florida, but don’t register to vote and vote the stupid way you did up north, or you’ll get what they got.” We will prevent any kind of what we consider stupid voting. Efforts by stupid individuals to get stupid voters to vote stupidly will be crushed. Only our kind of stupidity will prevail!

Our elections will be carefully monitored and audited to yield only results I like—including my re-election. We will gerrymander districts to ensure only Republican outcomes and prevent anything other than a Republican majority in any election, ever. We will make Florumpia the one-party state it should be.

We will prevent any forms of fact-checking, truth-telling or lie-preventing by social media platforms and actively promote falsehoods ranging from altered COVID statistics to The Big Lie of the 2020 election.

We will encourage the massive accumulation of guns by all right-thinking Florumpians and ensure that Florumpia is a fully armed society unbound by any limits on weaponry—and certainly not restrained by a well-regulated militia.

But while we endanger the lives of already-born Florumpians with guns and germs we will prevent women from having the right to choose their own health options. We will make Florumpia the leading unsafe abortion capital of the world, allowing me to surpass that charlatan, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, as the king of the back alley abortion promoters.

We memorialize the Surfside building collapse and applaud the first responders who answered the call but we will protect campaign-contributing builders and developers by reducing their liability for future catastrophes.

Speaking of Surfside, that sad incident brings me to a final, indisputable and absolutely true observation: “…You never know what tomorrow will bring. Don’t take anything for granted and make the most out of each and every day.”

And I say: Amen to that!

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

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